423. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Retraining of Congolese National Army


  • The President
  • Governor G. Mennen Williams
  • Colonel W. Gall—U.S. Army
  • Major Romaneski—U.S. Army
  • General Mobutu—Commander-in-Chief, Congolese National Army
  • Mr. Cardoso—Charge d’Affaires, Congolese Embassy

After the usual amenities, the President asked General Mobutu what would be the effect of withdrawal of the United Nations forces from the Congo, particularly what would be the effect in Katanga. Mobutu said that before answering that question he would like to express his appreciation to the President for the hospitality and help extended to him during his visit to the United States and for U.S. assistance to the Congo.

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The President replied that he was happy to assist the Congolese to maintain their stability and territorial integrity. He then asked what the United States could do now. Mobutu replied that the Congo needed bilateral aid as requested in a letter which Adoula had sent to the U.S. Government.2

The President then asked what was the problem of ANC retraining. Mobutu said that the Congolese had a good army under the Belgians but when the white officers left the army fell to pieces. He recalled an old French proverb that “there are not good soldiers and poor soldiers but only good officers and poor officers”. The Congolese problem was not one of troops but of officers.

Mobutu continued that the second problem is one of materiel. While there were chances of a civil war some countries had been reluctant to supply the Congolese with materiel, but now with the problem of civil war passed it was time to provide materiel before the UN leaves. The President then asked Governor Williams what had happened to the “Greene Plan” and what the present situation was relative to military assistance. Governor Williams replied that the United States had sought to set up a military aid program under a UN umbrella. Recently it had become clear that the UN would not undertake to provide such an umbrella. Presently we were holding discussions with the Belgians and other countries asked to provide bilateral aid. The Belgians were ready to move almost immediately. He pointed out that the U.S. program was to be one of supply of equipment, rather than training, at which point Colonel Gall indicated the Army wished to provide maintenance training.

The President then asked Mobutu what assistance General Mobutu expected from the U.S. Mobutu replied that there was lack of materiel particularly trucks, communications, and other equipment.

The President asked whether the Congolese had technical personnel to take care of the equipment. Mobutu replied that 22 Congolese officers had been trained in Belgium and received a diploma in maintenance but that they needed many technicians in addition.

The President asked how many soldiers there were in the Congolese army. Mobutu replied that the goal was to be 25,000 but that presently there were more in the army because under the U Thant Plan they had to incorporate the Katangese and Kasai gendarmerie.

The President returned to his question whether Mobutu could maintain order after the UN’s departure. Mobutu without hesitation replied that he could if he could get U.S. military aid immediately. He said he needed foreign technicians in all units of the army to improve its discipline, maintain equipment, and carry on its administration.

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Second, he needed help in the organization and training of the gendarmerie. He needed officers and technicians for the gendarmerie and a school in which to train them. Thirdly, he wanted to establish a military academy but this was for the future after the provision of technicians and equipment.

Mobutu stressed that the foreign officers were to function along with the Congolese officers. He then added that it would probably be easier to organize the army and gendarmerie if he had better equipment, particularly since he then could transport those that had been trained to the places where they had to go.

The President said that the retraining and modernization of the ANC would take considerable time, perhaps a matter of years. Mobutu said that he had a plan to accomplish the retraining and reorganization and that it would take three years. The President then asked whether or not during this time Tshombe and others might not be too powerful, have a military force at their disposal and cause trouble. Mobutu said he didn’t know because now the UNOC was present, but he didn’t think they would. He pointed out that thanks to the UN, Congolese units were now stationed in Katanga and Kasai and would later have some foreign technicians to help. The President asked what nationality they would be. Mobutu replied, “Belgians”. The President asked whether there would be any difficulty between the troops and the Belgians. Mobutu replied that since independence there had been a return to discipline and he thought that the troops and Belgians could work together. Mobutu further pointed out that there wouldn’t be trouble when the UN withdrew. For example, the UN had already withdrawn from the Kasai and there had been no trouble. Mobutu continued, “If you give me equipment, I’ll be ready.”

The President asked what the US timetable was for rendering assistance, specifically when were we going to get started and when and what kinds of equipment were we going to send. Colonel Gall answered that we did not have at this time a bilateral signed with the Congo; that although we did not know specifically what kinds of equipment were needed, we had made up a small program based on the “Greene Report”; that the arrival time depended upon the programming lead time and availability of equipment; that availability of equipment in many cases depended upon production schedules of industry; that these schedules in part were influenced by the amount of money made available to the various services for procurement of equipment.

The President then asked who was in charge of the military assistance program. Colonel Gall answered that the Army had the responsibility, specifically the DCS/OPS, General Johnson.3

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The President then said we cannot just go on talking about this program but it was important not to give the appearance of or in fact undercutting the UN. He would look into the matter himself. He was sure that Spaak would help but wondered about assistance from other countries.

The President then asked about the participation of other countries. Colonel Gall replied that five other nations—Italy, Belgium, Norway, Israel and Canada—had been asked to assist. The U.S. was attempting to work out a coordinating mechanism to make sure there was no duplication of effort. The President then asked what action the US had taken relative to the participation of these other nations. Governor Williams stated we had had some talks with them but that nothing was firm as far as he knew other than participation by the Belgians. The President said, “You mean only the US and Belgium have signed up so far to help on this program”? Governor Williams said Israel had indicated it was willing to assist in parachute training and believed they had started this training. Colonel Gall noted that training had not yet begun.

At that time the President invited the General to move out into the rose garden for pictures; he said, “General, if it hadn’t been for you, the whole thing would have collapsed and the Communists would have taken over.” To which General Mobutu replied, “I do what I am able to do.” The President then commented that he had done an outstanding job.

The President then asked about Gizenga, to which Mobutu replied that if the army had been handling the matter it would have turned out differently but it was a governmental problem.

After moving into the rose garden, the General asked if the President would be interested in the conclusions the General had drawn from his trip to American military installations and the President said he was.

General Mobutu said his first conclusion was that he personally wanted to take parachute training for four weeks at Fort Benning and for two weeks at the Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg. The President later asked him whether he wanted to do it himself and whether he could leave the country and Mobutu said he wanted to do it himself and he could leave the country because he had some assistants in whom he had confidence, after all he had been in the United States already for a couple of weeks. He had the Minister of Defense’s permission to take a course in France, but wished to come to the US instead. The President said he was delighted.

The second conclusion the General reached was that the US would not only have to supply materiel but training also. He remarked that he had certain Belgian-trained troops that he wanted to finish off by sending them to Fort Bragg. Thirdly, he had a good parachute unit already [Page 862] and had ten officers in this unit which he wished to send to Fort Bragg for training.

Fourth, General Mobutu said he hoped to send some Congolese students to Fort Leavenworth. He saw that there were other foreign officers there and hoped some Congolese could go.

The President indicated his approval of training for General Mobutu and for ten paracommando officers. He was noncommittal on Mobutu’s other requests.

Fifth, Mobutu said that he had spoken to the military about a command aircraft. The President said he knew about this and Mobutu should have it.

As the President walked out to say goodbye to General Mobutu he said that there was nobody in the world that had done more than the General to maintain freedom against the Communists and that whenever there was any crisis in the Congo, Mobutu’s name was mentioned.

The President said to Governor Williams he would like to know on the basis of the morning’s discussion what decisions were now required in order to implement this program.4

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Congo. Confidential. Drafted by Williams. Another memorandum of the conversation by Colonel William O. Gall, Assistant for Africa in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, is ibid., Brubeck Series, Congo, February–July 1963.
  2. No letter of this nature from Adoula has been found.
  3. Deputy Chief of Staff for Military Operations Lieutenant General Harold K. Johnson.
  4. A June 7 memorandum from Rusk to the President outlined the current status of the program and stated that no further decisions were necessary at that time. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Congo)